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Head to Abu Dhabi's mangroves
Bernd Debusmann Jr.
To many of us who live in the UAE, a lush and wet green landscape full of interesting animals may seem like a world away. But for a chance to see hundreds of different species, one need not even leave Abu Dhabi, home to the country's magnificent Mangrove National Park.
According to Abu Dhabi's Environmental Agency, there is an estimated 70 square kilometres of forest across the emirate, 19 square kilometres of which are inside the park.
A trip to the mangroves will be a pleasure for nature lovers, as the mangroves are home to hundreds of bird, plant and other species. Among the highlights are 1.5-metre-tall greater flamingos, foraging mottled crabs and grey reef heron. If you're lucky, you might even run into an inquisitive bottle-nosed dolphin, or a bulky and slow moving - but almost unbearably cute - manatee-like dugong.
An interesting but perhaps little known fact about the UAE's mangroves is the important part they play in the environment. Mangroves, essentially, help scrub carbon monoxide from the atmosphere, and contribute to the fight against global warming. In the gas-guzzling emirates, nothing could be more important.
As the mangroves are within the confines of a protected natural area, the only way to visit them is through an accredited operator. Luckily for us, there are a variety of options available.
Noukhada Adventure Company, for example, offers a number of kayaking options through the mangroves, which are designed for various levels of previous kayaking experience. The simplest is an hour and a half long tour of the mangroves, which takes one through channels over the shallows at mid to high tide, or under the full mangrove canopy at high tide. Other options include a two-hour "eco-tour" designed to help one understand the ecosystem, or a night-tour with LED lights affixed to one's kayak.
Mangrove National Park is located in Abu Dhabi, near the Anantara Hotel just outside central Abu Dhabi on Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Street.
(Click on the image to enlarge)